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Thousands of protesters gathered peacefully near the state Capitol on Monday night. Photo by Robert Sanchez

Denver’s Fifth Night of Protests Leaves a Powerful and Peaceful Message

“Denver can be an example for the whole country,” said one protester.

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On the fifth day, Denver showed it could be done.

As violent clashes with police marred protests nationwide over the death of George Floyd, thousands of people peacefully marched through Denver’s streets on Monday night, walking from downtown and into the heart of the city’s historically Black neighborhoods of Five Points and Curtis Park, before kneeling with fists raised in the street in front of a darkened state Capitol.

Amid chants of “George Floyd” and “We protest! No riots!” Denver’s march was in stark contrast to the previous four nights in the city—and across the country—which included hundreds of arrests and multiple confrontations that led to widespread vandalism from protestors and tear gas and pepper balls from Denver police. With tensions high in the city—one march organizer decided to stay home because of threats against him—the expectation was that more violence would unfold Monday, particularly as Mayor Michael Hancock’s 9 p.m. citywide curfew grew closer. Windows to businesses in and around the 16th Street Mall were boarded up; makeshift first-aid stations were set up in nearby residential areas.

By 10 p.m., it seemed as though none of it would be needed.

Denver’s march—which covered nearly four city blocks at times—began at the Capitol and headed north, eventually covering swaths of Curtis Park and the Five Points neighborhoods. On 26th Street, the marchers packed themselves sidewalk-to-sidewalk. They carried signs that included “Justice,” “Say His Name,” and “I Can’t Breathe.” Along the route, men and women who were not participating in the march instead videoed the scene from their yards, from balconies, and from hotel driveways. Cleaning crews stopped their work in office buildings to watch from large windows. Children gathered along sidewalks and on streets.

At the intersection of Broadway and Welton Street, protestors knelt quietly for eight minutes and 46 seconds, their fists raised, to memorialize the time Floyd was pinned to the ground by a white Minnesota police officer. As the Denver group moved back toward the Capitol, along Lincoln Street, fireworks were shot into the sky.

Floyd’s death on Memorial Day sparked outrage and protests in Minneapolis and throughout the United States. Murder and manslaughter charges were filed last week against Derek Chauvin, the officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin and three officers who were at the scene of Floyd’s death were fired, though Chauvin is the only one to be charged, and the Department of Justice is investigating the incident.

“We will have justice,” Neil Yarbrough, a 25-year-old Denver real estate agent, told the Denver crowd Monday night after it had gathered in the middle of Lincoln Street, in front of the Capitol, a little after 9 p.m. Protestors again knelt in the street, or rested on the grassy hill nearby. A public-address system intermittently screeched out a message that they were violating the city’s curfew.

On Monday, President Donald Trump threatened the mobilization of “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers” to stop “lawlessness” across the country. In a joint statement, Hancock and Colorado Governor Jared Polis rebuffed the president, saying, “The president’s threat to deploy federal troops is counterproductive and will only stoke the potential for worse violence and destruction. Denver is not Little Rock in 1957, and Donald Trump is not President Eisenhower. This is a time for healing, for bringing people together, and the best way to protect civil rights is to move away from escalating violence.”

Police and protestors briefly clashed before the march, but police quickly moved from the area. Even as protestors arrived near the Capitol shortly after 9 p.m., police generally stayed away from the area. At around 9:40 p.m., a contingent of police moved to one corner of Civic Center Park but still remained at a distance.

Yarbrough implored the group to remain peaceful. “We are together,” he said. “We don’t want anybody hurt. Don’t let nobody do no stupid shit…. This will be the silver lining for 2020.” The crowd cheered.

Then, one by one, they began to leave.

“When the president calls us thugs, this is what we want him to see,” 27-year-old Kenny White, one of Yarbrough’s friends, said as the crowd thinned.

Yarbrough was hopeful that Monday night’s protest could change the narrative in the city.

“Denver can be an example for the whole country,” said Yarbrough, who is Black. On Monday evening, he walked arm-in-arm with Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and led part of Monday’s march with friends. “They see us, and they hear us,” he said. “A lot of people are angry, but we have to look at the bigger picture.”

As Monday turned to Tuesday, protesters were still on the city streets. Right around midnight, police fired tear gas into those still assembled, most of who dispersed.

Keep Reading: All of 5280‘s protest-related coverage can be found here.

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